The Mystery of Ron Artest 

Piecing together a puzzle

Steve Hammer By

Piecing together a puzzle

Steve Hammer Steve Hammer's Blog
The saga of Ron Artest and the Indiana Pacers defies conventional wisdom and comprehension. How could such a talented man self-destruct in so many ways? How could a situation deteriorate so quickly? In the past two weeks, Artest has spoken frequently and openly, but each statement adds to the mystery. He wants to be traded. He doesn't want to be traded. He likes coach Rick Carlisle. He doesn't like him. Every statement leads into a different hall of mirrors. In order to gain a piece of understanding, a base camp on the mountain of mystery, to borrow a phrase, it is necessary to pick through a variety of sources, some directly related to Artest, some not. Part One: The Mystery "If to some degree he will always remain mysterious, that contributes nonetheless to our developing sense of him. He is a man we can never understand with comfort, yet the small mysteries surrounding him give resonance to our comprehension. An echo is less defined than the note that created it, but our ear can be enriched by its reverberation." - Norman Mailer, Oswald's Tale: An American Mystery (Random House 1995) ´´´´´ On what turned out to be Ron Artest's final game night as an Indiana Pacer, he was dressed in a dark suit and tie, looking more like an attorney or businessman than a basketball player. Having, earlier in the day, given an interview that he knew might fatally damage his career with Indiana, he walked onto the court by himself and sat alone near the bench, his arms folded, a contemplative look on his face. As his teammates began their shoot-around, Artest left the court, returning in the second quarter. Instead of sitting with the rest of the team, as injured players normally do, Artest took his chair and sat along the baseline, next to a security officer, the towel boy and the fans. During timeouts, he stood silently with his arms folded behind his back, not approaching his teammates. At one point, he stood and looked completely around Conseco Fieldhouse, taking in a 360-degree view, as if he knew he might not ever return. Within a few hours, the story of his trade demand would be made public and his life changed forever. "That outfit he's wearing, it looks like an undertaker's," a reporter on press row said. ´´´´´ From The Art of War Chapter XI: "The clever combatant imposes his will on the enemy, but does not allow the enemy's will to be imposed on him. "By holding out advantages to him, he can cause the enemy to approach of his own accord; or, by inflicting damage, he can make it impossible for the enemy to draw near ... "Appear at points which the enemy must hasten to defend; march swiftly to places where you are not expected ... "You can be sure of succeeding in your attacks if you only attack places which are undefended. You can ensure the safety of your defense if you only hold positions that cannot be attacked. "Hence that general is skillful in attack whose opponent does not know what to defend; and he is skillful in defense whose opponent does not know what to attack." ´´´´´ Late at night, sometimes 3 or 4 a.m., Artest will show up at a 24-hour big-box superstore near his home in southwestern Hamilton County. According to a cashier, who'd talk to a reporter only if the store's name isn't mentioned, Artest usually comes alone, but sometimes has an entourage. He buys clothes, CDs, DVDs, videogames and toys. But mostly, he walks around the store, up and down every aisle, looking at everything. Sometimes, the cashier says, he doesn't buy anything, he just walks in, walks around for an hour, then leaves, without saying a word to anyone. Other times, he engages the cashiers in conversation. Where do you go to school? Do you have another job? Have you heard if this movie is any good? Is it OK for my kids to see it? Mostly, though, he keeps to himself, signing autographs only when pressed. He has a hard time sleeping, the clerk says. He is also spotted often at the Vogue in Broad Ripple and playing pickup ball at the Jewish Community Center. He keeps to himself. ´´´´´ "[I did a song with] this lady who's been singing for 53 years; she's 78 years old. Her name is Doris. She's my neighbor. My producer did the track. It's like a country-hop, country/hip-hop song. I'm not rapping, I'm like, singing, but really like, screaming, like, 'The pain ... ' and stuff. It was just like one of those days when you're in the studio and you just go after it, you know what I'm saying? She was in there and she was singing, and the track came out real hot." - Interview,, October 2005 ´´´´´ "The Pistons were still shaking their heads at what happened Thursday night as they were on their bus inside the loading-dock area of Conseco Fieldhouse. "It was between 11:30 and midnight and the Pistons' bus was about to leave the arena for the airport. "Suddenly, a dark Escalade roared into the loading dock, nearly hitting several people. Out jumped Ron Artest. "According to Pistons players on the bus, Artest was wearing an old (and short) pair of shorts. He had no shoes on and, upon getting out of the vehicle, he tore off his T-shirt. "Given the history between Artest and the Pistons, the team's security officials were on high alert. But Artest made no motion toward the bus. He simply walked, bare-chested and bare-footed, into the building, presumably for a midnight workout. "'There's something going on there,' Ben Wallace said, not wanting to comment further." - Detroit News, May 22, 2005 ´´´´´ "True warriors view themselves as protectors of those they serve and society in general. They have a powerful belief system and a willingness to sacrifice for those weaker than themselves, even if that sacrifice includes the death of themselves or another. Each warrior may have a slightly different view of good and evil or legal and illegal, depending on their environment, education or upbringing, but all true warriors believe in the basic concepts of right and wrong, of fair and unfair, and in the concepts of loyalty and honor. It's these last two that often create the true warrior's greatest turmoil." - The Warrior Ethic by Phil Messina Part Two: The Man Every summer, Artest returns to Queensbridge to host a charity wheelchair basketball tournament. He's participated in the event since he was a youngster and, now that he has some money, signs checks for it. The condition for the gift is that nobody knows the money comes from him. ´´´´´ "I'm in the hood every summer. I'm like the king of the hood. Nobody does it how I do it. That's pretty much it, man. I'm a regular dude. I don't really try to wild out. They be calling me thug this, thug that, but you can't blame me. I grew up around gangstas and killers. You can't blame me for who I grew up around." - Interview, Oct. 10, 2005 ´´´´´ entry on Queensbridge: "Queensbridge Houses is the largest public housing development in the United States. Queensbridge, which is located in Long Island City, New York in Queens, opened in 1933. The 3,142 unit complex is the country's largest such housing project and is owned by the New York City Housing Authority." ´´´´´ Straight outta Queensbridge I'm selling crack to a pregnant mother And make her daughter think I love her The gutter is real Fiends move fast on the hill Broad daylight gats do peel (So what about the bitch who got shot?) fuck it You really think a nigga give a fuck when I'm bucking? You stupid bitch I bang out no remorse Then the very next day, I floss - "Straight Outta Queensbridge," a rap song by Q.B.'s Finest, from the CD Queensbridge: The Album ´´´´´ My name is Ron Artest I can ball I can shoot threes and you know I can play that D I'm unstoppable All you fools is actin funny tryin' to ... bad mouth me ... Trying to take some money out my pocket But I don't care Smack you in the head Smack you up in the air Kick you in the rear You know how I do it - Freestyle rap, 2004 ´´´´´ "He's a horrible rapper, to tell you the truth. He has a lot of enthusiasm and he certainly knows his music, but as an MC, I've got to tell you, there are at least 100 guys here in Indianapolis who are at his level or higher. Don't get me wrong, I love Ron. He's helped out a lot of people in this city and he's a great guy. He just has this complex where he thinks he's Nas or Biggie Smalls. He doesn't realize that people are trying to take advantage of him and use him so they tell him he's a great rapper. It's sad." - An Indianapolis hip-hop figure, requesting anonymity ´´´´´ Q: What do you want to say to everyone out there telling you to stop rapping? ARTEST: I want to tell them they can suck my cock, all of them. That's what they can do. Kiss my ass and then when I see them, I'm going to smack them in the face, bring them to the hood, punch them in the face, and they can kiss my ass. Q: What do you want to say to all your fans out there? ARTEST: I want to tell them to keep God first, and don't let nobody tell you different. God is number one, man. He's going to help you do good and bad. You're going to have good times, and you'll have better times. That's real. - Interview,, October 2005 ´´´´´ "[My] album's gonna be totally clean. No curses. The music that's on the Internet is probably the music I did on the streets of New York City. There's a lot of songs you haven't heard, where I try and influence kids to do the right thing. At the same time, I'm not a goody two-shoes, so I've got songs about going to the clubs. I've got songs about everything. "I'm just Ron Artest. I'm not trying to be Biggie or 2Pac or somebody like that. I'm just Ron Artest and I like to have fun. I like to do music. I'm not trying to emulate anybody." - Press conference, October 2005 ´´´´´ * Two years ago, he flipped out and broke a television camera at Madison Square Garden. * Last year, Artest noted, "If I had a player out of line, I would bench him. That's all you can do, bench him. You don't kiss nobody's rear end, because it stinks." * At one point last season, Artest practiced in a bathrobe. * As a rookie with the Bulls, Artest applied for a part-time job at Circuit City. * Before last year's All-Star Game, he shot around in his game uniform and Steve Madden loafers. - Marty Burns, Sports Illustrated, November 2004 I'll prolly go on over here prolly go get 40 today go and drink a Henny cause I'm a grown man cuz I can do what I want today and say what I wanna say - freestyle rap, 2005 ´´´´´ After the game, three or four reporters await Artest's arrival in the locker room. Long after most of the other players dress and leave, Artest wanders back to his locker. Pacers media relations director David Benner pulls up a chair and talks softly to him. With a wave of his hand, he summons the reporters to Artest's locker. Their questions are also spoken in a soft voice and phrased in a way so that Artest is forced to give yes or no answers. While their tone isn't condescending, it's reminiscent of the way teachers talk to small children. "Ron, do you think that ..." or "Ron, isn't it true that ..." When Artest says he couldn't get into a rhythm because he couldn't play coach Rick Carlisle's offense, Benner winces. - Reporter's notes, Nov. 5, 2005 part Three: The Brawl "2004-'05: He made appearances in seven of the season's first nine games and led the Pacers with a career-best average of 24.6 ppg ... For his involvement in an incident at the end of the game with Detroit, 11/19, he was suspended for the remainder of the season." - 2005-'06 Indiana Pacers Media Guide "I was having a great game. Eighteen points first quarter. There was a real good game and things got out of hand." - Press conference, October 2005 ´´´´´ "This is the hip-hop culture. This is gang behavior on parade minus the guns. That's the culture that the NBA has become. That's what's happening here, and part and parcel of this gang culture, this hip-hop culture, is: 'I'm not going to tolerate being dissed. I'm not going to be disrespected.'" - Rush Limbaugh, Nov. 22, 2004 ´´´´´ "Carefully compare the opposing army with your own, so that you may know where strength is superabundant and where it is deficient. "In making tactical dispositions, the highest pitch you can attain is to conceal them; conceal your dispositions, and you will be safe from the prying of the subtlest spies, from the machinations of the wisest brains. "How victory may be produced for them out of the enemy's own tactics - that is what the multitude cannot comprehend." - The Art Of War ´´´´´ "We are conditioned to assign blame. Who started it? Who escalated it? Whose fault was it that an NBA game turned into a street brawl? We are conditioned to watch the tape over and over again, like it's the Zapruder film, and determine whether all of this falls on the shoulders of Ben Wallace or Ron Artest, the knucklehead fans or what passed for Palace security." - Bob Kravitz, Indianapolis Star, Nov. 21, 2004 ´´´´´ "Two and a half short weeks had passed since the reelection of George W. Bush. John Kerry's concession had come the morning after, leaving no hanging chads to preoccupy a country seeking domestic distraction from the calamity of the war in Iraq. ... There was now a vacancy for generic villainy in America's cable court of public opinion, and along came Ron Artest and a handful of relatively famous professional basketball players, all black, millionaire rich and dragging along their entire industry to a quick, decisive and unforgiving judgment." - Harvey Araton, Crashing The Borders: How Basketball Won the World and Lost its Soul at Home (Simon and Schuster, 2005) ´´´´´ Ron Artest is a hero to me for decking those Detroit rednecks. Why? Because it was ABOUT DAMNED TIME someone around here threw a punch. Ever since the results came in from Ohio on election night, I've been looking for a reason to hit someone. Anyone. But Ron Artest did it for me instead. That's why I love Ron Artest and honor him as one of the all-time great Indiana Pacers, worthy of his jersey in the rafters and a plaque in the NBA Hall of Fame someday. Ron Artest punched those dudes so I didn't have to. He saved me a night in the City-County Lockup. Now I don't have to go out and kick someone's ass and spend $3,000 fighting an assault charge. The incident in Detroit was ugly, but so was the video from Iraq last week. - Steve Hammer column, NUVO, Nov. 24, 2004 ´´´´´ "Artest is such a tough guy and he commits a foul like that in the last minute of a game they're beating the heck out of us. If he'd wanted to fight Ben, why was he backing away? Ben would have settled it right there and none of the other stuff would have happened." - Detroit coach Larry Brown, in Araton's book ´´´´´ "Mine anger was kindled against the shepherds, and I punished the goats: for the LORD of hosts hath visited his flock the house of Judah, and hath made them as his goodly horse in the battle. "Out of him came forth the corner, out of him the nail, out of him the battle bow, out of him every oppressor together. "And they shall be as mighty men, which tread down their enemies in the mire of the streets in the battle: and they shall fight." - The Book of Zechariah, Chapter 10, King James Version ´´´´´ FREE RON ARTEST - T-shirt worn by Pacers fan during 2005 playoffs ´´´´´ When Artest is introduced before the Pacers' first home game, a standing ovation began at the mention of his name and continued for several minutes. ´´´´´ "I still think my past haunts me here," Artest said. "I think somewhere else I'm starting fresh. I'm coming in with baggage, but people already know about it and how I'm going to be. Either they're going to be for me or they're not going to trade for me. Here I think my past haunts me. "I think they will be a better team without me." - Indianapolis Star interview, Dec. 11, 2005 ´´´´´ "That relationship is over," O'Neal said. "He didn't come to the guys that's been behind him for the last three or four years to let us know what he was thinking, what he was feeling. If he had done that, I'm pretty sure guys would have understood. We found out about it when you did, and that's inexcusable." - The New York Times, Dec. 14, 2005 ´´´´´ "Ron is an ego-driven, me-first, screw the team, me, me, me player with serious issues in his life and in his brain. "He's not good for this team, city, state - whatever. If people can't see the damage he's caused to this franchise in the last few years, they're not looking at the truth. "Bi-polar, tri-polar - it doesn't matter. He's F'd up and in the process was F'ing up the team. "Damn - if people would only realize the reality. We'll be a better team and Indy will be a better city with him out of here. The embarrassment he's brought here will last a long time. "Let it go and get him out of here. "Peace." - Post on Pacers board, Dec. 15, 2005 ´´´´´ The third-shift employees at the superstore say they haven't seen Artest since The Star interview was published. They're sad at the prospect of losing a valuable customer and friend. "If I got in trouble every time I said something bad about my bosses, I'd be in jail right now," a cashier says. "I don't think he meant what he said. I wouldn't be surprised if he wants to come back to the Pacers, but I don't think they'll let him. That's too bad. I like him; he was always nice to me and everyone else here. Sometimes I think he says things he doesn't really mean." ´´´´´ "Given such modest thoughts, it is time to conclude one's sad tale of a young American who lived abroad and returned to a grave in Texas. Let us, then, say farewell to [a] long and determined dream of political triumph, wifely approbation and high destiny. Who among us can say that he is in no way related to our own dream? If it had not been for Theodore Dreiser and his last great work, one would like to have used 'An American Tragedy' as this title for this journey through [his] beleagured life." - Norman Mailer, Oswald's Tale: An American Mystery, (Random House 1995)

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